News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

Defendant Intentionally Blinded Pilot with High Powered Spotlight

January 13, 2011

WAYNE P. GROEN, 41, of Lynden, Washington, was indicted this week by a federal grand jury for interference with the authorized operation of an aircraft and incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft. The indictment stems from events of September 22, 2010, when GROEN shined a high powered spotlight on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter that was being flown by a pilot wearing night vision goggles. The spotlight blinded the pilot making it impossible for him to see the airspace around him, and the dials necessary for flying the aircraft. The pilot had his hands on the controls and so could not remove his goggles. The co-pilot had to direct the pilot to fly out of the area.

According to records filed in the case, at about 9:35 in the evening on September 22, 2010, the helicopter was supporting law enforcement on the ground working to intercept those suspected of illegally crossing into the U.S. from Canada. The helicopter was about 500 feet off the ground, near the Abbotsford B.C. airport, when the high powered spotlight was trained on the helicopter. The beam was trained on the helicopter for about five minutes. The helicopter returned to assist in discovering the source of the spotlight. The aircraft and investigators on the ground observed that the spotlight was coming from the vicinity of GROEN’s home. When an officer on the ground drove up GROEN’s street, GROEN shined a high powered spotlight on him. GROEN got out of the car with the high powered spotlight in his hand. GROEN was arrested December 17, 2010, on a criminal complaint. He has been released on bond since his initial appearance.

Interference with an authorized aircraft is punishable by up to 20 years incarceration. Incapacitation of an individual during authorized operation of an aircraft is separately punishable by up to 20 years incarceration.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case was investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jerrod Patterson.


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